Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Vayishlach

KOSHI: What does it mean for Jacob to acquire his new name? HOW does it become our name?

11.20.2010/13 Kislev 5771
Featured Modern Author: Nessa Rapoport, “The Woman Who Lost Her Names”

V.28-29     And he said, ‘I will not let you go till you bless me.’ So he said, ‘What is your name?’ And he replied ‘Jacob.’

Then he said, ‘No longer will it be said your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine & humans and prevailed.

RADAK… The question is rhetorical, like God’s question to Adam “Where are you?” [Gen 3:9]

Designed merely to initiate conversation, the angel already knew his name.

RASHI“I willnot send you away unless you bless me”  That is, ‘Acknowledge my right to my father’s blessings which Esau disputes.’

MUNK…Note—Torah has “beyrachtani—bless me” in the past tense.  Thus the angel answers, ‘Your name “Jacob” means “the supplanter,” he who took the place of the other; the one who takes crooked paths.  But now your name shall no longer be Jacob—this name will be part of what is past, and no more.  Your name will be Israel, for you have fought and won the blessings openly and with dignity. [cf. RASHI]

MIZRACHI… It is not that the angel is renaming Jacob, nor changing his name immediately and forever, but merely revealing what God would later do…

RASHI…And your destiny shall be that the Holy One will reveal Himself to you at Beth-El and there change your name.  And there He shall bless you, and I shall be there, and I shall concede them to you.

Jerusalem TALMUD… R’ Yanai said: God associated His Name, EL, with Israel’s. 

This is like a King who has a small key to open the door to His palace, so He says to Himself, ‘I’ll lose the key if I leave it like this, so I’ll attach a string to it in order to easily find it.’  So of Israel, God thought, ‘If I leave them on their own, they will surely get lost among the nations, so let me attach My Name to them, and wherever they go they will never be lost.’                [Ta’anit 2:6]

RALBAG… “For you shall be a SAR—Prince” among the angels on high in recognition of the Providence exercised over you, and your closeness to the Holy One.

R’ BACHYA…You shall be a “fighter for God” as the angel affirms Jacob’s integrity and piety.

ONKELOS… “You have fought before God with man and have succeeded.”  Consequently, Israel means “fighter before God,” thus no indication of fighting with men is to be found in the name, significantly, for Israel’s mission…is to establish the kingdom of God with spiritual weapons. [MUNK]

ZOHAR…Note: Torah does not say “ki sarita al elohim—striven against” but “sarita im—struggled with.”  Jacob is now transformed into Israel, not the one who strives to overcome but to unite with.

V.30   Jacob then asked, “Pray, tell me your name.” And he said, “Why do you ask of my name?” And he blessed him there.

RADAK… ‘You have no need to know my name.’ So the angel answered Manoah [Judges 13:18] For I do not [even] know my name at any given moment, for it is subject to constant change.

S’FORNO…Our essence is spirit and it cannot be communicated in human terms, but only through God’s Will.

V.30   So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face yet my life has been spared.”

R’J. SACKS… Because we are so used to it, we forget how rare and difficult the Jewish approach is…the belief that redemption lies in this world, all the features that we associate with Jacob/Israel and the people who bear the name of one who struggled with God and man and prevailed. If you believe that truth and justice are to be pursued in this world, then you must struggle with the world…Judaism does not anaesthetize us to the pains and apparent injustices of life; it does not reconcile us to suffering.  It asks us to play our part in the most daunting undertaking ever asked by God of mankind…There is grandeur in this refusal to abandon the struggle, this sustained reluctance to accept the world as it is…Jews have always been pioneers of the spirit—disturbers of the peace…That is our vocation…It remains a privilege to carry Jacob’s destiny, Israel’s name.

[Covenant & Conversation, Maggid Books, 2009, pages 239-241.]

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